NXNE 2011: Devo et al

June 26, 2011 at 1:27 am (Uncategorized)

The extent of my participation in the annual North by North East Music Festival is usually to attend the free shows at Dundas Square. Last year was Iggy. This year it was Devo.

At 7 PM though, I caught the New York buzz band Cults. Apparently they had played a pretty good set at Lee’s Palace the night before, but here they were for free in the day time.

The two piece band of  Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin were expanded to a five piece tour band, and the result was a somewhat rougher mix than the record.  

Musically the band follow in the footsteps of others, most notably the Raveonettes, who love a fifties style pop mixed with a bit of Phil Spector then covered it with feedback drenched guitars. Not an unpleasant mixture by any stretch.  Cults played a half hour or so set to an appreciative crowd

I skipped Men without Hats for obvious reasons. The Thai food I got up the street seemed a much more sensible bet.

When I returned at about 9:20 for Devo it was dark and there were a lot more people in the square.

The appeal of Devo is a bit of a mystery. Their bit hit was 1981’s Whip It, but appart from that,  they were a bit of a cult band. The first album Q: Are we Not Men? A: We Are Devo which birthed  the whole de-volution mythos scored a minor hit with a truly inspirational cover of the Stones Satisfaction, but otherwise didn’t make much of an impact in the broader milieu ( I do remember seeing the surreal Jocko Homo video on the Old Grey Whistle Test when I was a kid – see it here  )

Devo began in Ohio at the end of the sixties. In fact, several members were students at Kent State during the massacre and knew some of those that were murdered on the campus. Devo mixed art, rock, and a theory that mankind had ceased to evolve, but was now de-volving. (Today they point to the emergence of Sarah Palin as evidence)

Devo hit the stage at 9:30 with “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” in front of  a video backdrop of constantly changing images. And one thing was immediately evident, Devo’s songs were astonishing catchy electronica. Other (non) hits followed, Peek-a-boo,. Girl U Want,  and finally just before the break Whip It.

After Whip It came a break with a video and voice over explaining some of Devo’s theory, and then the band triumphantly returned  to Satisfaction. If the first half of their set was about New Wave Dance Musci, then the second half was about the punkier side: Secret Agent Man, Uncontrollable Urge, Mongoloid, Jocko Homo and more. 

Devo raced through costume changes, and even threw Devo hats to the audience (Note to those like myself standing near the back – you can buy the hats and hazardous waste suits through the Devo Site ).

I went to the show with low expectations. I thought it might be fun, but if it got too corny, hell, I didn’t pay for it. Came away with a different point of view. Not bad for a bunch of old guys. 



  1. Paul said,


    Great free show!


    “I say it’s all just wind and sails!”

  2. Music Notes July 2011 « Notes from Underground said,

    […] way through Devo’s set at the NXNE festival this year, I thought, hmm, these guys are pretty good. The electronica section of the show was […]

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